Monday, August 1, 2011

New York Times, Editorial: The Equitable Fire.

January 10, 1912, New York Times, Editorial, "The Equitable Fire."

There was no other private business building in the world that could be compared with the Equitable Building in repsect to the magnitude of the interests assembled under its roof, no other the burning of which would have imperiled so many hundreds of millions of securities, or have been the cause of so serious a temporary derangemeent of financial affairs. The immediate effect of the fire was the closing of half a dozen or more of the city's great banking institutions to which access could not be had because of the heat and smoke and the establishment of fire lines. The Clearing House, an indispensible part of the financial machinery of the Wall Street district, could not be occupied, and the morning's clearings were effected after a fashion, in the Chamber of Commerce Building. One singular effect of the fire was the suspension of deliveries on the Stock Exchange. Immense volumns of securities were known to be either destroyed or rendered inaccessible by the fire, and not only were deliveries out of the question, but there could be no certainty that the securities dealt in were actually in existence. It is certain that New York has never had a fire that was the cause of so general a dislocation of business in the financial district.

There is reason to believe that when the final measure of the property loss is ascertained, it will be far below the appaling estimates which were first made, and which seemed plausible enough when it was feared that everything within the building might be destroyed. It is a cause of congratulations, first of all, that the enormous mass of securities belonging to the Equitable Life Assurance Society, amounting, it is said, to some $300,000,000, were preserved from destruction within the great safe built for their keeping some years ago. There is great satisfaction, too, in the assurance given by Presidant DAY that the records of the society, which hardly could be replaced, were some time since removed to another office. It is believed that the securities in the vaults of the Mercantile Safe Deposit Company, amounting to many millions, and those in the safes of the banking institutions are also intact. Two valuable law libraries were destroyed, besides the records and papers of the many law firms who were tenants of the building. The loss, confusion, and embarrassments caused by the fire will have their echoes in court proceedings for many years to come. The Equitable Building, valued at some $15,000,000, will be a total loss, and it was not insured. But, as it was said that the land covered by the structure is worth $300,000 more without the building than with it, it is plain that the estimate of this loss is subject to material reduction in view of the fact that the Equitable Society has for some years had under consideration plans for the erection of a new building.

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